HANDYDART SERVICE BUMPS ACROSS BORDERS
By Paul Gowan
HandyDart is a public transit service that accepts people with disabilities who are unable to access regular public transit without assistance. Using specially designed vehicles, HandyDart in the Lower Mainland is a perfect example of transit fitting the needs of the community. Or is it?
HandyDart is operated by different contractors in different Lower Mainland service areas, loosely based on municipalities or municipal groupings. Each operator has a separate contract with Translink, Greater Vancouver’s public transit authority.
Some clients don’t get their needs met. Carla Felip, a disabled Delta resident, was working at Hydrecs, a B.C. Hydro subsidiary located in downtown Vancouver. But she didn’t take HandyDart because it wouldn’t get her to work when she needed.
Felip is recovering from an accident that left her with limited mobility. She used Skytrain, but had to walk three blocks to her job, exhausting her so much she was forced to quit her job after only two months. Felip said she would be looking for another position in a more convenient location.
She also can’t get a HandyDart at a time of day when she needs one to take her to rehabilitation appointments at G.F. Strong – so her father drives her in from Delta. She wishes HandyDart were a little more flexible about where they will take someone and when.
Coordination of service problems are common when HandyDart buses travel from one service area to another.
Unlike regular Translink service, which operates one automated set of schedules for much of the Lower Mainland, HandyDart currently relies on separate schedules created manually in each service area.
Booking procedures and hours vary from one area to another. Clients can “subscribe” to regular trips or book trips three to four days ahead on a “casual” or one-time basis. Each HandyDart operator tailors trips to its particular clientele. Work, medical appointments or post-secondary education are given top priority.
Surrey HandyDart runs a scheduled trip into Vancouver Monday to Friday, arriving between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. depending on the drop-off point. But it only runs one regular Vancouver trip per day. For this trip, HandyDart customers must be ready for pickup by 7 a.m.
The Surrey return trip leaves Vancouver at 11:30 a.m. (There is an added 12:30 p.m. departure on Tuesdays and Thursdays only). This only leaves an hour and a half for appointments and any other stop-offs.
Delta HandyDart also runs one trip per day into Vancouver, arriving between 12:30 and 1 p.m., again depending on the location. If Delta residents want to go earlier, they can piggy-back on Surrey HandyDart’s Vancouver run, but only if they live in certain areas of North Delta and are also registered with Surrey HandyDart, which they must do separately.
Simon Fraser HandyDart, which covers Burnaby, New Westminster and the Tri-Cities, runs two trips into Vancouver per day.
Translink administrator Jim Dawe said that HandyDart has some coordination issues, with contractors doing things differently in different geographical areas. He said the program tries to meet demand, but that HandyDart service operators find it hard to keep up, especially for trips through two or more municipalities.
He admits that problems with scheduling are made worse by the manual scheduling system, under which schedulers are constantly struggling to meet varying demands and special requests for service.
HandyDart recently purchased hardware for a new automated scheduler. Dawe hopes the new system, due for a trial in Richmond and Simon Fraser in March and April, will resolve some of HandyDart’s current Lower Mainland scheduling issues. Implementation in other Lower Mainland communities is set for the summer.
“We’ve been gradually working toward homogenization of the service hours and everything else,” said Dawe.
HandyDart isn’t like the bus system, he said.
He said people can sometimes get an extra trip or arrange a HandyDart transfer when travelling from one service area to another.
“If [HandyDart] is able to provide the trip directly, they will. But what happens is, each HandyDart has their specific service area, so basically the bulk of their trips are going to be within the service area. What happens is the buses become booked into that area so it’s very difficult for them to go outside the area. But they do that. It’s just that it’s a little more difficult to go outside the service area.
“Then they have the ability to transfer from bus to bus [between zones] as well, and they do that as the next step.” If a client wants to travel from Surrey to Vancouver, for example, they can attempt to arrange a trip to Vancouver and then transfer to a Vancouver HandyDart at a cluster point, such as Vancouver General Hospital.
But to do this, Surrey HandyDart needs to call Vancouver HandyDart to see whether or not a link can be made. The process takes time and a transfer isn’t always possible.
Dawe was surprised to hear that Surrey HandyDart, when contacted, didn’t mention the availability of extra trips on top of the once-daily “subscription” trips. Nor did they mention the possibility of a bus transfer when travelling to another municipality. “The operator is supposed to offer an alternative,” said Dawe.
He said they might not have mentioned other options because they were simply overloaded and had nothing available.
For people like Carla Felip, who need to travel from one municipality to another for work, Dawe suggested negotiating start times with an employer.
“It’s a give and take thing between the customer and the HandyDart,” he explained. Some options are good and some are not good.
In Vancouver, the HandyDart contractor is Pacific Transit Cooperative. Riders own the company, and the company manages the drivers. Translink provides the vehicles and the funding.
All HandyDart operators in the Lower Mainland are non-profit societies or similar, except for two, Dawe said. The two private operators are on the North Shore and in Maple Ridge.
Dawe said HandyDart has a five- to seven-year plan, but beyond that, concerns arise about the ”baby boomer bubble.” Geriatric-related disabilities will place extra stress on the system. “We really don’t have a handle on that yet,” he said.
Seventy per cent of HandyDart clients are female, and 70% are also over 75 years of age. A fare is $2 for two zones and $3 for three.